It can be easy to forget about your career direction when you are caught up in the day-to-day whirlwind of identifying and qualifying prospects, building forecasts, closing deals, hitting activity levels and sales targets; but it’s important to think about where you want to end up and what you need to do in order to get there.
Many Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) at the very top of Technology companies come up through a successful career in Sales.
This of course makes perfect sense, as driving sales and profitability is one of the key objectives for most CEOs.
Traditionally, success in a Sales role (normally recognised as several years of achieving/exceeding targets) will lead to a first line Sales Management position, followed by an Area or Regional Sales Management role (normally second/third line management and with more revenue and headcount responsibility) and then to Sales Director or Sales VP.
Some of these Sales Directors/VPs will then make the transition to General Manager, Chief Operating Officer (COO) or even CEO.
Clearly these career paths depend on the size of the Technology company; a small company with a few salespeople will not have (or need) all the above roles, whereas a large Technology corporate will have many more roles and granularity, with often a ‘matrix’ organisation overlaid.
This traditional sales career path assumes that you want to develop your career through sales management roles, reducing the time you spend with prospects and customers, and increasing the time you spend managing colleagues, and on other related matters. Management training is normally provided in parallel with sales management responsibility to ensure you have the right set of skills to perform effectively as a new manager.
Of course, there are other career directions you could take; not every successful salesperson wants to move into management!
Some enlightened Technology companies offer a ‘consultant’ career path for sales staff, where career development does not grind to a halt if you do not want management responsibility.
Consultant Salespeople are normally positioned as the most senior ‘professional sales’ role, and base salaries and seniority in a Consultant Sales role will often rank alongside a management role, but the main difference is that your income potential (i.e. including commission or bonus) is generally higher, as the role is fundamentally a Sales role as opposed to a management role.
Clearly, Sales can also open doors into other related roles as well (e.g. marketing, product management, bid management, sales training, and European Head Quarters roles to name but a few).
In the past, in return for a long-term (sometimes a lifetime) commitment from a employee to work for their employer, employers ‘took care’ of career development, and provided the skills needed and job opportunities to move forward in their organisations. Today, career management is almost entirely the responsibility of the employee; he or she must determine where they are going, how they will get there, and the skills and development they need to achieve this.
Having thought about your career plans, and having an eye on your direction of travel in a company, this can inform decisions that you take, shape how you present yourself, and drive your appraisal meetings.
If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there!